Thoughts on Reversiblity

Inspiration: knit purl patterns used in Midway

Getting the sweater lapels reversible with a cable motif as I had planned is beginning to seem daunting, but on reflection not all of the front panel will be turned back, just the portion across the neckline opening minus the overlapped button bands.

Per Shirley Paden, the neckline opening should be 40-50% of the back shoulder width, so, assuming a 2″ overlap for button bands, the maximum width of the front panel that needs to be reversible is:

separate button bands: ((16″ shoulder width x 0.5) / 2 fronts) – 1″ of button band = 3″ x 4.5 st = ~ 14 stitches

integrated button bands: ((16″ shoulder width x 0.5)  / 2 fronts) + 1″ overlap = 5″ x 4.5 st = ~23 stitches

Fourteen to twenty-three stitches in reversible patterning is entirely manageable.

First Meeting

Inspiration: the twist stitch zig-zag cables knit at worsted weight in Reverb

Saturday afternoon I met my terrific WEKP mentor for the first time — Webs in-house knitwear designer Kirsten Hipsky. It was great having a seasoned sweater designer to hash out ideas and challenges with — I am one lucky knitter. Important takeaways from this discussion with Kristin:

  • Rough estimate of how much extra yarn needed for a cabled garment: add 25% (Thanks for this Kirsten, estimating has been keeping me up nights).
  • Kirsten validated my concern about trying to sew a tubular cast-off for the full length of the sweater front plus collar – alternatives to mull over include an integrated button band, reinforced with a crochet chain stitch, or an I-cord edging.
  • Zig-zag travelling stitch is reversible, and a good alternative to a potentially messy reversible ribbed cable as there are fewer stitches to cross in any given row.
  • Saddle-shoulders work well with a center-cabled sleeve.
  • Sewn flannel pockets will not fly

Back to the sketch book for a first round of design revisions – the patterned panels are coming into focus.

Initial Swatch

The ball-band gauge on Dovestone Aran Naturals is 4.5 stitches per inch, so my first thought was that I could push the gauge to worsted or closer to DK range. I started with size 6 wood needles knitting at 5 stitches per inch (top of the swatch in the photo above) but the stitches skew to the left, the right half pinched, and that the fabric looks rough and uneven. While this is not unexpected for a 2-ply yarn, the effect is much less noticeable at 4 stitches per inch, and the fabric looks smoother and more regular.

I experimented with applying a button band using a double-needle pick up in rib pattern, in order to avoid the usual row of purl stitches on the back of a double needle pickup. I’m really happy with the result – it will make for a completely reversible button band (back side below).

I also started the ribbed reversible cables I had intended to feature alongside the button bands, but it soon became clear they they weren’t going to stand to from a background pattern without a lot of bulk, something I want to avoid. I’m going to have to rethink that front motif.

Double-needle pickup in ribbed pattern, back of swatch

Yarn Choices

When thinking about yarn for my WEKP project, these were my top considerations:

Durability: it is so disappointing to put months into knitting something that devolves into a mess of pills after a season’s wear.  I had heard good things about longwools and thought that might be a good place to start –Wensleydale or Blue-Faced Leicester — the right Jacob or Romney might do as well.

Versatility:  I love a rustic woolen spun, but for this project, I wanted something that could mix well with workday clothes as well as jeans, something that would have structure and a bit of drape without looking bulky.

Neutral Color:  can’t resist a tweedy undyed sheep’s grey, my favorite neutral, or maybe dark blue. I am very picky about color — I want tweediness and depth and a richness of tone that so many yarns miss.

Weight:  I’ve been leaning toward the kinds of traditional aran/guernsey stitch patterns that work best in a light sport weight at tight gauge, but need to be sure I keep to schedule, so DK weight seems like a good starting point.

Yarn Candidates

Wensleydale Fleece Gems  – West Yorkshire Spinners

This longwool is billed as a DK, but knits up more like a light sport with a lot of haze. I see this as something light and lacy, a bit too delicate for what I had in mind, and the grey color was very flat. 

Fleece Jacob – West Yorkshire Spinners

There was a lot to like about this Jacob — softer than I expected, in a tweedy sheeps grey — but like the other WYS yarn, knit up at a lighter gauge than I had hoped, and the next gauge up is aran.

Lore – The Fibre Company

This woolen spun Romney is a nice inky navy with a lot of body, a little more rustic than I’d like, but still a gorgeous yarn. Probably too dark for cables to really pop, plus I’d go blind trying see my stitches.

Dovestone DK – Baa Ram Ewe

This was my first choice –I made a cowl from this lovely, heathered blend of BFL, Wensleydale and Masham, but it has been discontinued, and remaindered colors at Webs weren’t right for my cardigan plan (I bought it in Rhubarb for a pullover).

Dovestone Naturals Aran – Baa Ram Ewe

The winner — a gorgeously soft, heathery sheeps grey in that perfectly neutral shade, warm but not too brown, with bit of a halo, and the durability of a BFL / Wensleydale longwool.

Once I had to face that Dovestone DK was off the table, I kept coming back to this one. Sure, I had planned for DK weight, and the two-ply construction may not be ideal for cabling, and its pricey for a whole cardigan, but these are not entirely rational decisions — this yarn kept whispering “knit me” and I couldn’t say no.

Capstone Proposal

Sweater Description: 

Spread-collared cardigan with applied button bands, saddle shouldered set-in sleeves, set -in side-entry pockets, and a side-slit hem with a slightly dropped tail in back.
Panels of textures stitches will be featured on the fronts, back, and possibly across saddles and down the sleeves. The intent is to add textural interest without bulk or stiffness, maintaining the natural drape of a longwool knit.
The collar stitches are picked up from the back neckline while knit continuously from the front pieces, so that the collar fits like a loose fold-over turtleneck when buttoned all the way up, and like a sailor collar when unbuttoned to the sternum (as shown in the sketch).
Use: This sweater is intended for indoor or light outdoor wearing .
Fit: The intended fit is body-skimming with minimal shaping, to be worn over a blouse or jersey, low-hip length.
— double-needle pickup (button & pocket bands)
— tubular cast-on and bind-off
— short rows
— reversible, twist and/or slip-stitch cables*
— guernsey inspired knit/purl patterning
* reversible cabling may need to be abandoned if it proves too bulky when swatched.
Inspiration: Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans by Gladys Thompson, Bárbara Walker’s stitch dictionaries.

My Old Favorite Sweater

Ten years ago, before knitting classes at WEBS, before I knew more than one way to do cast-ons and bind-offs, before I knew how to apply a button band or realized how badly I had misunderstood how to mattress stitch a seam, I decided to make myself a cabled cardigan with a wide, warm collar, franken-patterned from a hoodie with 2 1/2 pounds of Bartlett Fisherman 3-ply yarn. I made a lot of design choices that avoided things I wasn’t sure how to do. Over the years I have ripped, re-knit and grafted parts to improve the fit, but it’s still a bit of a mess, and still my favorite, most-worn, go-to sweater on a cold winter morning.

When I thought about what I wanted to do for my WEKP project, there was a light bulb moment when I realized that the sweater I most wanted to make and wear was was this one,  only better — keep the aran-inspired design, versatile shape and color, but lighter, less bulky, a little less rustic, with design choices based on my preferences rather than limited knitting skills.

Inspiration: my old favorite sweater